The Beauty of the Texas Raw Milk Bill
Here in Texas, we have a great opportunity to expand our access to raw milk, and small, sustainable dairy farmers’ access to markets. Currently, farmers who hold a Grade A for Raw Milk Certification can sell raw milk directly to the consumer – but only on the farm. The Texas Raw Milk Bill, HB 75 and SB 237, would allow farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers at any “location where producers customarily sell their products directly to consumers,” like farmers’ markets, or at pre-arranged drop-off points.
The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, an organization that has worked hard to get this bill written and introduced and is now working to get it passed, created this campaign website, where you can sign up for action alerts.
Not only do I think this bill is better than the current law, I think it’s a great law. In fact, it could serve as a model for other states trying to reform raw milk legislation. I want to be able to buy raw milk without driving a car, but I don’t necessarily think it should be sold in grocery stores.
Why? For one thing, the risk of raw milk contamination, while wildly exaggerated by the FDA, is real. That risk grows when farmers fail to keep their animals healthy and maintain clean facilities. I am willing to drink raw milk from farmers I know and trust – and when I buy at the farmers’ market or through a buying club, I can ask the questions that matter to me. Texas has strict standards for holders of a Grade A for Raw Milk permit, but I don’t believe that regulations can take the place of relationships. The regulations don’t, for example, require farmers to keep dairy cows on pasture. I would never drink raw milk from cows fed more than a minimal amount of grain – and grocery store sales of raw milk might create a market for such a product.
But I also think that we should be buying as much of our food as possible directly from the farmer. Now, consumers have to find individual, local farmers if they want raw milk – and through this process, many might discover the benefits of buying local food from sustainable farms. If there is no raw milk at the grocery store, people have to go to the farmers’ market. I think that’s a good thing.
Raw Milk Advocacy: My Experience
I joined the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance last week for Family Farms and Local Foods Education Day, a day of lobbying at the Texas Capitol. We talked about this bill as well as a few others, which I’ll post about later. I have never lobbied before. And guess what? It was easy and fun! We split up into small groups, and my group visited the offices of a bunch of Austin legislators. I had an appointment with a staffer for Representative Naishtat, my representative, but at the rest of the offices, we just walked on in and asked if there was anyone there available to meet with us about food and agriculture issues. They all said yes. All of the staffers seemed very open to what we had to say, and although they couldn’t speak for the legislators, they were generally supportive. They also all said that we were the very first people who had contacted them about this bill! That means that calling your legislator, or better yet, stopping by for a visit, can really make a difference. If you’re from Texas, find out who your State Senator and State Representative are here.
I also wrote a column in support of this bill for The Daily Texan. You can read it here – and if you’re new to the raw milk debate, I recommend that you do! The process of writing this column, as well as a few of the online comments I received, got me thinking about how we should be framing this argument. To me, it is mainly an issue of freedom. People who feel more comfortable drinking pasteurized milk should (and will) continue to do so. But I don’t think the government should make arbitrary laws about what adults can choose to eat. There are substances that pose serious enough public health hazards that the government has a case for restricting their sale and use. Most of these fall into one of two categories: additives used by industrial food processors, usually to cut costs, and drugs. Raw milk falls into neither of these categories. We can – and should – argue about which substances should be restricted (aspartame? ephedrine? marijuana? trans fats?) but I think it’s safe to say that raw milk is not one of them.
However, as we work to expand raw milk access, we will encounter many people who for one reason or another truly believe that raw milk is dangerous. We have to learn to frame arguments in a way that responds to these people’s concerns. My next post will discuss the difficulties I’ve encountered and the questions I still have.